Monday, May 30, 2016

Moana, New Farm

Theodore Oscar Unmack was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1835 and came to Australia in 1853. After several years in Victoria he moved to Queensland in 1860 where he achieved success in business and politics.

For a time Unmack was engaged in the wholesale produce business with another German immigrant, Johann Heussler, and they operated out of Tara House (later to become the home of the Irish Club) in Elizabeth St. It appears that Unmack gave a regular market report that was published in the press for the benefiit of his fellow citizens. From The Queenslander:
WHOLESALE. (The Queenslander, 21 August 1875)
There is little change in the market since
last week; business has, if anything, improved.
The holidays have, however, tended to keep it
quiet. Flour steady; maize brisker; demand
good ; bran in average request; potatoes very
dull of sale, market being crowded with sellers,
and consumption moderate; hay still over
stocked and quiet; butter well supplied, and
in moderate demand. Bacon, 9d per lb ; bran,
£9 per ton j butter, 9d per lb; flour, best
Adelaide, £24 to £26 per ton; flour, Tas
mania, £22 to £24 per ton; hay, lucerne, £9
to £10 per ton ; hay, oaten, £8 to £9 per ton;
maize, 5s 8d to 5s 6d per bushel; oats, 4s 6d
to 5s per bushel; potatoes, nominal; onions,
none ; pollard, £9 10* per ton; soap, £30 per
top ; mould candles, 51/2d to 6d per lb

Unmack, a prominent Freemason, was the German Consul for two years as well as president of the Chamber of Commerce. In 1888 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly as the member for Toowong and subsequently acted as the Postmaster-General and Secretary for Railways. Here is a photograph from 1889.
 (Photo: SLQ 69368)

In 1885 Unmack purchased land at Moray St, New Farm where he built the subject of today's post - the imposing house overlooking the Brisbane River that he named Moana, a Hawaiian word meaning water or sea, but probably "borrowed" from the name of a hotel. Here are photographs of it, front and back, from 1932. The view from the rear also includes the maids' quarters, testament to the status of the owner of the house.
(Photo: SLQ 19407)

(Photo: SLQ 19406)

Architects Banks and Carandini designed Moana and it is believed to be the last surviving example of their domestic architecture. The Unmack family lived there until the early 1920s when it was converted to flats. Theodore Unmack died in 1919.

Moana appears on the Brisbane City Council heritage register. Although it has been modified in the conversion to flats and then the conversion back to a single dwelling in 1986, much of the original character of the house remains. The latest sale of the property I could find was in October 2010 for a tad over $3 million. This is what it looked like at the time.

And here is today's quick look over the fence at Moana.
  (Photo: © 2016 the foto fanatic)  

Click here for a Google Map.


Monday, May 2, 2016

JAM O'Keeffe, builder

We have seen evidence of the work of well-known architect Andrea Stombuco in these pages before.

Today we will examine a builder who converted many of Stombuco's dreams into reality. He was an Irish immigrant named John Arthur Manus O'Keeffe.

O'Keeffe came to Australia in 1857 and initially settled in Toowoomba where he worked as a builder, possibly on the railways. Next we find him, a decade later, mining the gold fields of Gympie. This activity allowed O'Keeffe to amass a sizeable land holding, mainly heavily wooded, from where he would be able to source timber for the construction work he was about to undertake.

By the end of the 1870s O'Keeffe had moved with his wife and family to Spring Hill in Brisbane in order to embark on the career for which he is best remembered. In the Brisbane boom-times of the 1880s his company would construct many of Brisbane's most notable buildings.

The firm of Messrs O'Keeffe & Co operated mainly in the private sector, eschewing the government construction work that was also plentiful at this time. Among his non-Stombuco accomplishments were the fabulous Dura at Hendra, designed by HGO Thomas, built by O'Keeffe in 1888-89 and known now as Glengariff; as well as Collins Place built in 1889-90 at South Brisbane for hotelier Michael Foley (pictured below, Glengariff top & Collins Place bottom).
(Photo: SLQ 145445)


Around this time he created Stombuco's impressive Her Majesty's Opera House in Queen St, shown in the drawing below. Regrettably this ornate building was demolished during the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era of destruction.
(Photo: SLQ 16875)

Also of note were the terrace houses situated on Petrie Terrace that came to be home for the O'Keeffe family and now are a Brisbane landmark close to the Normanby Fiveways. They are pictured here in 1977, prior to a restoration.
   (Photo: SLQ 73812)

Stombuco was also an accomplished ecclesiastical architect who had already designed several churches in Victoria, and in Brisbane he designed these churches that were built by O'Keeffe - firstly St Patrick's Catholic Church at Fortitude Valley.
(Photo: SLQ 7908)
And also St Andrew's Anglican Church at South Brisbane.
(Photo: SLQ 189987)

Then there was the building meant to be Stombuco's own residence (Sans Souci, now Palma Rosa) where O'Keeffe was the principal contractor, the others being Andrew Petrie (stonework) and John Watson (plumbing). Unfortunately for Stombuco he wasn't able to reside there - at least not for long, as the building boom in Brisbane was soon to end. 
 (Photo: SLQ 128011)

The boom era of the 1880s preceded the bust of the 1890s. A financial melt-down together with the natural disasters of the huge floods of 1890 and 1893 caused many businesses to fail. Stambuco left Brisbane for Perth in 1891, never to return.

O'Keeffe's business was forced into liquidation but he managed to repay most of his debts before his death in 1913 at the age of 76.

Note: Historian Rod Fisher completed what he has called his "farewell to Brisbane arms" in 2011 prior to moving to Brazil - a thoroughly researched opus called "The Best of Colonial Brisbane", and the information presented here is drawn mainly from that source.

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